To further strengthen its longstanding connection to the county’s shoe heritage, the University of Northampton presented four leading industry figures with Honorary Fellowships at its Summer Graduation Ceremonies last week.
The University annually recognises individuals who have achieved excellence in their field and to those who have contributed their expertise to the University and the region.
Shoe designer, Guy West secured his first job in the footwear industry aged 17, before establishing the now iconic Northampton-based brand, Jeffery West with business partner Mark Jeffery. The pair had started their first footwear venture at the age of 15, customising shoes from Mark’s family shoe factory, creating unique designer pieces to be sold from markets in the region.
The Jeffery West brand has a focus on heritage and craftsmanship, exciting designs and quality materials and Guy’s influences stemmed from the diverse subcultures at the end of the 1970’s – Roxy/Bowie, mod revivals and post-punk. The brand’s signature look is British ironic, individual – not quite fashion, but not quite classic. Today their customers span the generations and with a store now open in New York, they are reaching a wider audience than ever.
Cousins, Jonathan and William Church are part of the locally renowned Church family, who established the footwear brand, Church’s. They were very much part of Church’s footwear until 2009 when they conducted a management buy-out of the brand Joseph Cheaney & Sons from Church & Co, who by this time was a wholly owned subsidiary of Prada.
Having been manufacturing quality shoes since 1886, Joseph Cheaney & Sons continues to go from strength to strength and remains fully committed to producing high quality footwear entirely Made in England (Desborough, Northamptonshire) with several stores in London, including the prestigious Jermyn Street.
Jonathan’s original contact with the University of Northampton was via the Leslie Church Award (a Church family fund), which Jonathan oversees. The fund is used to support second year Fashion students who are taking the Footwear pathway and consists of an annual footwear competition, factory tour and presentation.
William has fully supported the development of the BA (Hons) Fashion, Textiles, Footwear and Accessories – Footwear pathway. He has arranged work placements and factory tours and competitions whilst at both Church’s and Cheaney & Sons. He has also given valuable advice regarding the purchase of machinery for the new footwear provision at the University of Northampton.
Church’s Group Chief Executive, Stephen Etheridge, has taken the high-end luxury footwear brand from strength to strength. Church’s shoes spans centuries, with manufacturing starting in 1675 and, although now a wholly owned subsidiary of Prada, it has succeeding in maintaining the strong English shoe tradition and heritage within its manufacturing process.
Stephen has served as a Non-Executive Director of the British Footwear Association (BFA) for many years, and is a Non-Executive Chairman of SATRA, the world renowned technology and testing organisation based in Kettering.
He has also demonstrated a long and committed service to the University of Northampton. He has fully supported the development of the BA (Hons) Fashion, Textiles, and Footwear and Accessories – Footwear Pathway by offering valuable advice and support to both staff and students for course development and studies respectively.
Each year third year footwear students are invited by Stephen to apply for the Church’s Scholarship. He has offered invaluable support and commitment to the footwear industry on both a local and national level. This, together with the long term service to the University, has all helped in maintaining Northampton’s footwear heritage, in particular Good Year Welted shoes.
Northamptonshire’s shoe and boot making heritage dates back almost 900 years as almost every town and village in the county has had a successful specific footwear industry, for example Long Buckby was famous for its long boots and Wollaston for its work boots. Over 25 manufacturers are still operating within Northamptonshire and the University of Northampton has strong connections with the industry; often hosting regular guest speakers, as well as supporting the students with internships and work placements.
Professor Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor of the University of Northampton, commented: “In addition to celebrating the outstanding achievements of the graduating class of summer 2015, we also recognised high profile individuals who have made a positive impact on others. The recipients of these honorary awards will inspire our graduates as they begin the next exciting stage in their lives, making their own mark on the world.”